Queer News On Campus [QNOC] Articles Digest
For the week ending 2010.01.17
Brought to you by the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals. http://www.lgbtcampus.org
Archives of the QNOC Digest can be found at http://queernewsoncampus.blogspot.com
Reminder: If you come across articles that should be included in the digest, please email a link to the article to firstname.lastname@example.org
1. The Michigan Daily - Gay and Greek: The experience of being gay and in a fraternity
2. The Chronicle of Higher Education - Protests Over Gay Rights Greet Historians' Meeting
3. Inside Higher Ed - Protest at History Meeting
4. Inside Higher Ed - Love and Death in Indiana
5. UNF Spinnaker (University of North Florida) - SG Senate denies T-shirt funding for LGBTQ Awareness Days
6. South Bend Tribune - Notre Dame's Observer newspaper staff sorry for cartoon
7. AZCentral.com/The Arizona Republic - Paradise Valley Community College to host gay, lesbian film festival
8. Yale Daily News - Rights group criticizes Yale
1. The Michigan Daily, January 12, 2010
420 Maynard St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Gay and Greek: The experience of being gay and in a fraternity
By Nicole Aber
Jonathon Ohlinger, known to his friends as JD, never really wanted to join a fraternity. Just wasn’t for him. But after becoming close with a few kids that lived down the hall freshman year who were all going to rush, Ohlinger decided he’d give it a shot.
“We figured out that you can get a lot of free beer and free alcohol and free food if you tell the fraternity you’re rushing,” Ohlinger said. “So I ended up being on, like, 12 different rush lists.”
This was fall 2008, Ohlinger’s first semester at the University. And although he said he enjoyed the rush process — the free parties and booze, the friends he made — Ohlinger never seriously considered joining. Even after he and his friends received a bid to the same fraternity, Alpha Delta Phi, Ohlinger still opted against it.
It wasn’t that Ohlinger didn’t enjoy the people he had met — some of his best friends decided to join. But, rather, Ohlinger thought he wouldn’t be welcome in the fraternity once the brothers found out he was gay.
“I didn’t think the whole, being in a frat and being gay went together at all,” Ohlinger said. “(I didn’t know if) it would be OK with those people having guys come back to the frat … if it would be awkward in front of people, or if people would have a problem with it. So I just turned down my bid right up front. They gave it to me and I turned it down.”
The following day, a few of the ADPhi brothers called Ohlinger to ask why he’d turned down the bid. “Oh, I didn’t tell you guys, but I’m gay,” Ohlinger told the brothers. “And they were, like, ‘Oh, so why’d you turn it down?’ ”
But even after turning down the bid, he still hung out with some of the guys in the fraternity, still attended parties with them throughout the semester.
Throughout the rest of the fall semester, Ohlinger’s friends who were rushing the fraternity and other ADPhi brothers asked him to reconsider. They told him he should rush winter semester. “ ‘We all talked about it and no one cares,’ ” Ohlinger recalls the brothers telling him. “ ‘You’re our friend and we want you in the house.’ ”
But even with the continued encouragement to rush ADPhi, it wasn’t until near the end of the fall semester that Ohlinger seriously considered it.
“One of the older guys (in the fraternity) came up to me the end of the semester. He was always telling people he was homophobic, just that kind of person,” Ohlinger said. “And I forget what he said exactly, but he said ‘I just wanted to say I hope you rush the house, because you made me question what I always thought (about gay people).’
“So what I was thinking,” Ohlinger said, “what it really came down to was, if I could change the opinion of how 60 straight frat guys viewed one gay person, or the whole gay community, while I hung out with my best friends and had a really good time, why wouldn’t I do it? So I ended up deciding to do it.”
Ohlinger rushed ADPhi that winter and hasn’t looked back since. “It was this huge relief,” he said. “There were no negative outcomes. So many people surprised me by the things they said and they did.
“I’d do anything for a lot of the guys in there,” Ohlinger said of his brothers. “For me to keep something like that from them would be horrible and would defeat the whole purpose of what we stand for.”
Ohlinger’s original sentiment about rushing a fraternity isn’t unique. His initial concern that fraternity life and being gay don’t mix resonates throughout the LGBT community.
However, Ohlinger’s experience is distinctive in his coming out before rushing the fraternity. Numerous other gay men who are in fraternities are either not out to their entire house or only out to a select few. Their stories shed light onto the experiences of LGBT men in fraternities, or those considering joining fraternities on campus, many of whom feel they have to change who they are or hide a part of themselves to fit in.
And while there are other Greek councils on campus — which surely grapple with similar issues — most of the officials and students quoted in this story are discussing the culture in the IFC fraternities as the most blatant examples of Greek life stereotypes.
The following names in this section have been changed to protect the anonymity of these individuals. Their reasons for wanting to remain anonymous are all the same — that most or all of their brothers don’t know they are gay.
Steve, a senior in a fraternity that is part of the Interfraternity Council, the collective group of over 29 fraternities on campus, is not yet out to his brothers.
Steve points to what he calls the “dude culture” as the reason many gay men are not comfortable coming out in their fraternities.
“You have a big social life and parties with sororities and hooking up with girls and all that type of stuff,” Steve said. “So when something runs contrary to that I think people are surprised.”
Steve said that this “dude culture” often times lends to the perception that the Greek system on campus is homophobic. He said, however, that from his experience, when you view it on an individual level, most of the fraternity members in the IFC aren’t unaccepting of gay people. It’s when you step back and view the system as a whole, he said, that the perception of how Greek members view LGBT people changes.
“I think at the group level, kind of a pack mentality (exists),” he said. “Whenever someone starts jerking around and saying (homophobic) things, but not necessarily meant to be derogatory, that kind of feeds into those perceptions.”
John, a freshman in another IFC fraternity, has only come out to a few of his brothers. He spoke about his thought process behind telling some of his brothers that he is gay.
He said he first decided to come out to a few of his fraternity brothers, mostly people in his pledge class, just a few months ago. He said he didn’t want to tell everyone because it’s an extremely personal part of his life that he doesn’t want to share with everyone.
“It’s just kind of like a family history story,” John said. “Like you tell the people close to you, a bonding thing. It’s like getting to know each other, gain their trust.”
During the rush process, John said it was important for him to find a fraternity that he felt would be accepting of his sexual orientation. And while he said this is a characteristic of his fraternity, some of the others on campus may be a little more close-minded.
John said that while he has received positive responses from the brothers he’s told thus far, their reactions are generally all the same: surprised.
“I get the same reaction, like ‘no way, like I don’t see it at all,’ and then I start explaining and then it totally makes sense,” he said.
But because he is still not out to most of his brothers, John feels that he still has to act a certain way — especially in social settings like fraternity parties, where the brothers are expected to interact with girls.
“If I just want to talk to my fraternity brothers or something like that I can’t do that,” he said. “Or if some of my LGBT friends come over, I know, like, they’re always, like, ‘Dude, why are you hanging out with a bunch of dudes? Go find some chicks.’ Those are the guys that don’t know that say that to me.”
John said that having to change how he acts in certain situations is difficult for him, and he has found himself having to embrace some of the stereotypes of fraternity members to blend in more easily.
“You know, you kind of have to act a certain way,” he said. “It’s kind of like not a complete change of who I actually am as a person; it’s just the small details. I think it’s dumb that I have to focus my attention on making sure I act that way because it’s kind of the antithesis of what I’m supposed to be doing, but as of right now it’s just the small changes that I’m sure I’ll get rid of.”
John spoke about being most uncomfortable when his brothers ask him about his sex life, something he said guys discuss on a regular basis, but that he avoids divulging any information about.
Paul, a junior in an IFC fraternity who is also only out to a few of his fraternity brothers, expressed similar feelings of having to change how he acts in certain situations.
“There are comments I usually wouldn’t be making if I were around friends who knew,” Paul said. “But you know you need to put up some sort of façade, it’s part of something that you learn growing up that most people, most gay guys do and I’ve talked to other gay guys who are the same way. You just need to throw in a comment here and there.
“Like, I’ve hooked up with girls in the past, but it was really just to put on, you know, a show, not for personal gratification,” he said.
Greg, a junior in an IFC fraternity, hasn’t yet come out to anyone in his fraternity except for one other brother who is also gay. His parents and a few of his close friends know, but he said he doesn’t feel the need to share this information with his entire fraternity.
“For me it’s stupid because people don’t say ‘Oh, by the way, I’m straight,’ ” Greg said. “I don’t feel the need to come out because I’m going to act how I want to act and I’m going to do what I want to do regardless of what people know and what people don’t.
“I’ve had a relationship and I brought my boyfriend around the house and I’m sure some people knew and some people didn’t,” he said. “But you just do what you do and its at the point that I’m comfortable with myself to do what I want to do. I don’t feel the need to announce it.”
One major factor that contributes to the perpetuation of the Greek stereotype on campus is the lack of visibility of gay students in fraternities. Because many gay students feel uncomfortable coming out to their brothers and, in turn, don’t come out, people both inside and outside the Greek community are unaware gay members exist within the system.
Gabe Javier, assistant director of the Spectrum Center, the University office for LGBT issues and awareness on campus, works with the executive boards of all four Greek councils to promote LGBT awareness in the Greek system. Javier, who came out to his fraternity brothers as an undergraduate at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo., spoke about the stereotypes and perceptions that surround the Greek community and the psychology behind why many gay students feel uncomfortable coming out.
Even if the perceptions are not true, if the fraternity brothers would be accepting of a brother who comes out, Javier said, these issues need to be addressed because those perceptions still exists.
“I think perception is reality, right?” Javier said. “I think whether or not it’s true, if it’s what you feel then it’s what you feel. So whether or not it’s true that they will be deactivated or beat up, if someone thinks that’s going to happen, then there’s perception to be busted, myth to be busted.”
To address these concerns, a group called the Lambda Alliance was created in 2007 that aims to bridge the gap between the LGBT and Greek communities on campus. The group was founded by members of all four Greek councils — in collaboration with the Michigan Student Assembly’s LGBT Commission and the Office of LGBT Affairs (this office changed its name to the Spectrum Center in 2007) — in an effort to combat the unfriendly environment of the Greek system toward LGBT students.
Kristefer Stojanovski, currently a University graduate student, played an integral part in the formation of Lambda Alliance. Stojanovski came out to his fraternity, Chi Psi, while he was an undergraduate at the University.
Former-IFC president Jose Nunez was also a member of Chi Psi at the time, and upon hearing that his fraternity brother had come out, Nunez realized there was a need for a greater push for LGBT awareness in the Greek system and worked with Stokanovski to form the Lambda Alliance.
Since its formation, the Lambda Alliance has held events like ally training workshops, which aim to educate members of the Greek system on how to be supportive allies to LGBT brothers or sisters.
In 2007, around the same time the Alliance was formed, the Office of LGBT Affairs released a survey to the Greek system to measure the community’s level of acceptance of LGBT people.
The survey asked questions that addressed how people would feel about a brother or sister coming out. Most said that individually they would be comfortable with a brother or sister’s coming out, but that they thought their fraternity or sorority as a whole would not be okay with it.
This groupthink mentality is something that Javier said he thinks still holds true within the Greek-letter community today.
“I would imagine that people in fraternities and sororities feel that they individually would be really affirming or supportive of an LGBT friend or person, but as they got further out from themselves, so perhaps a small group or their chapter, or the Greek system in general, they might feel like it’s less affirming,” Javier said. “That tends to happen in groups, so the goal is to help us think about if everyone thinks they’re cool with it but they also think their peers are not, then someone has to do something.
“Whose job is it if we all say we believe something but we don’t think the person next to us believes that?”
Ari Parritz, last year’s IFC president, said he thinks the results of the LGBT climate survey still hold true, despite greater signs of national acceptance of LGBT individuals like the introduction and passage of same-sex marriage legislation in some states.
“There’s been gay marriage proposals in a variety of states since that survey, so I think maybe that influences peoples’ perceptions of how they interact with the LGBT community, but I don’t know how much or if it has at all,” Parritz said. “I don’t think much has changed on campus.”
But current IFC President Mike Friedman said he thinks the Greek system’s view toward LGBT individuals is, for the most part, accepting, and that the community’s attitude toward LGBT individuals runs contrary to the groupthink mentality found in the 2007 survey.
“Under no circumstances would it be acceptable for people to speak out against that specific community,” Friedman said. “And in fact you would be looked down upon if you did so. So I think as accepting as people are individually, as strongly as people hold their beliefs on an individual level, that is translated to the beliefs and acceptance of the organization as a whole.”
Parritz said that when he was IFC president, the biggest challenge his executive board faced while trying to address LGBT issues within the Greek system was garnering the support of individual chapter presidents and general members. Though members of the executive boards of IFC and the Panhellenic Association, an organization comprised of 16 sororities on campus, attended the ally training workshops last year, Parritz said no non IFC or Panhel executive board chapter presidents showed any interest in attending the training.
The Lambda Alliance, too, faces its own challenges, Javier said, because people who join or show an interest in the group may face questioning about why they care about LGBT issues.
“One of the reasons straight-identified men don’t identify as allies is because they don’t want to be mistaken, quote unquote mistaken, as gay,” Javier said. “They don’t want to be perceived as gay, so that’s a road block to someone who actually does care about LGBT people.”
Even with the formation of the Lambda Alliance in 2007, there still remains a lacking voice of out-LGBT students in the Greek system. The fact that there are still LGBT-identified students who don’t feel comfortable coming out to their fraternity brothers is an indicator that something more needs to be done than programming like ally training. Because despite getting some people involved, educational workshops such as those tend to be insular events that only involve a very small percentage of Greek community members.
While the Lambda Alliance and workshops are valuable tools, Javier said, the best approach to furthering the awareness and acceptance of LGBT students in the Greek system is for people to come out as allies. Javier said people need to demonstrate openness and tolerance of LGBT individuals instead of just sitting back and being apathetic on the issue.
“If people in the Greek community feel like allies… (for) whatever reason; whether they have a best friend, brother, sister, cousin, uncle, aunt, parent, whatever reason — to think about that reason, reflect on that reason and then come out, come out as an ally.”
Claire Sabourin, the current president of the Lambda Alliance agreed, saying that, in her experience, apathy was the greatest roadblock to improving the anti-LGBT perception.
“I think it’s more of an apathy,” Sabourin said. “Not about this particular issue, but about a lot of things in general. But I have met a lot of people who are willing to push the surge to work on it and who want to participate in the programming, want to keep doing what we’re doing. I think that for any issue you’re going to have to work harder because I think people may support something but not necessarily want to act on it.”
Ohlinger also said that something more than just ally training needs to take place to further the conversation on the issue, and said he thinks the most effective approach to creating LGBT awareness in the Greek system is not through formal training or ally workshops. Instead, it is through LGBT-identified peoples’ coming out to their brothers.
Ohlinger recalled what a brother had told him: “They don’t know anything. A gay guy might as well be an alien. But they meet you and they see you’re cool, like all of a sudden being gay isn’t some weird thing, some strange alien, not some crazy thing they’ve just hear about,” Ohlinger said. “(It’s) like, oh, yeah, that’s JD, he’s our friend, it doesn’t matter.”
Managing News Editor Jillian Berman contributed to this report.
2. The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 10, 2010
1255 Twenty-Third St, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037
Protests Over Gay Rights Greet Historians' Meeting
By Thomas Bartlett
Tension over gay-rights protests and a depressed job market set a dismal tone at the American Historical Association's annual conference, held here last week. You didn't have to look very hard to spot either drumming protesters or glum-looking graduate students milling outside the Manchester Grand Hyatt.
What's more, attendance was down sharply. The official number for this year's meeting was 4,158, compared with 5,800 at last year's meeting in New York and 5,400 the year before in Washington, D.C.
The "Manchester" in the hotel's name belongs to Douglas F. Manchester, a prominent supporter of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California. That support earned him and his property the ire of gay-rights activists, many of whom were unhappy that the association decided to hold its meeting here despite their calls for a boycott of his hotels. The association argued that breaking its contract with the hotel would cost nearly $800,000—enough, perhaps, to bankrupt the association—and instead chose to send a message by holding a "miniconference" on topics related to same-sex marriage.
Protesters at a Saturday-afternoon demonstration weren't buying it. About 75 activists chanted "boycott" and cheered when Cleve Jones, the well-known gay-rights activist, said his message for the association was that "history is on our side." In an interview, Mr. Jones said the association's decision to hold a session on gay and lesbian history only "added insult to injury." As for the scholars of gay and lesbian history, Mr. Jones said that he was sure they were "well-meaning" but that history would record only that they chose not to honor the boycott.
On Friday the doors to at least two of the miniconference sessions were guarded by well-muscled security guards. A spokesman for the association wouldn't confirm that the guards had been stationed at particular locations, but one of the guards said they were there in case protesters tried to disrupt the meetings. There were no reports of disruptions.
The association apparently was concerned, however, about such a possibility. According to Jennifer Manion, an assistant professor of history and director of the LGBTQ Resource Center at Connecticut College, she and others who led panels on gay marriage were given instructions from the association on how to deal with protesters, including exactly what to say should meetings be interrupted. If interrupted three times, the head of the panel was to tell the person causing the disruption, "If you are not willing to allow us to continue, we will have to call security." The document was titled "Talking Point for Chairs" and marked "Not for Distribution."
Ms. Manion spoke at a session specifically on Proposition 8, and she mentioned the boycott in her remarks. She said she had mixed feelings about entering the hotel, though she noted that those organizing the protest had been fuzzy on what specifically constituted a violation of the boycott in the weeks leading up to the conference. Ms. Manion said that while she was pleased that more attention than ever was being paid to gay and lesbian history, that feeling was tempered by the protests and by the security measures taken by the association. "It's ended up dividing" scholars of gay and lesbian history, she said.
Limited Job Prospects
The association's job center was set up at the Marriott next door so job seekers supporting the boycott wouldn't have to set foot in the Hyatt. There the talk was about the scarcity of openings. The statistics were indeed grim, with the number of jobs advertised in the association's newsmagazine at 806 in 2008-9, down 23.8 percent from a year earlier. Ryan A. Kashanipour, a graduate student at the University of Arizona specializing in Latin American history, was also on the market last year. This year, he said, seemed much worse. "The level of despair is quite disheartening," he said. Mr. Kashanipour had four interviews, though he noted that some of his friends had none.
Lawrence Bowdish was among those who had no interviews, despite applying to about two dozen institutions. Mr. Bowdish, a graduate student at Ohio State University, shrugged off the lack of leads. "It's probably my fault," he said.
Travis Bruce tried to look at the bright side. Mr. Bruce, a medievalist at Université Lyon 2, in France, also attended the recent Modern Language Association meeting, and he said graduate students at the history meeting "don't have the same desperate look in their eyes." Mr. Bruce had two interviews. "It could be worse," he said.
Despite the bad news, the conference had more sessions than ever before, on topics that included the broadly political ("What Has Obama Learned From History?") and the quirkily specialized ("New Research in the Global History of Pearl Diving"). The association's executive director, Arnita A. Jones, deemed it a success and said the response to the miniconference on gay and lesbian history had been very positive. Or, as one historian on Twitter wrote: "awesome conf."
3. Inside Higher Ed, January 11, 2010
1320 18th Street NW, 5th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20036
Protest at History Meeting
By Scott Jaschik
SAN DIEGO -- “Boycott the Hyatt. Check Out Now.” With that chant, about 200 protesters shouted their anger Saturday afternoon at the decision of the American Historical Association to have its headquarters and many sessions in the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel here.
In an unusual scene for a scholarly meeting, protesters rallied for an hour outside the hotel, and marched around it twice. While most of the rhetoric was against the hotel’s owner, the organizers carried a sign that said “What will history say about the American Historical Association.”
Gay and labor organizations in San Diego have organized a boycott of the hotel, noting that Doug Manchester, the owner of the hotel, was a major financial donor to the campaign to end gay marriage in California and that union leaders consider him hostile to organized labor. The history association, like most disciplinary associations that have large annual meetings, signs contracts with venues years in advance, in this case well before California’s gay marriage vote.
The AHA argued that it couldn’t cancel its contract with the Hyatt without facing huge fees that would have endangered the association’s finances. In a gesture to those who wanted to cancel the Hyatt events, the AHA added a series of special scholarly sessions on gay marriage and issues related to sexual orientation. But even though the meeting used more than one hotel, most of these sessions were at the Hyatt, forcing gay scholars and other supporters of gay equal rights to enter the hotel (even if many of these attendees made a point of staying elsewhere -- and of buying their coffee or snacks off site).
Some AHA members said that they were staying away from this year’s meeting altogether, as a protest. But while attendance was down, most here said that the drop was largely due to the poor economy, and the resulting drop in the number of job interviews going on (not to mention smaller or non-existent travel budgets). Events at the Hyatt were not visibly less attended than those at the Marriott next door.
The rally attendees were a mix of local labor and gay activists and historians (some of whom are also labor and gay activists). In his opening speech at the rally, Cleve Jones, a long-time organizer for gay rights, said that while the AHA may have been violating the boycott, “history is on our side.” And he closed the rally by saying of the historians’ association: “They did the wrong thing today."
In an interview after the rally, Jones said that the scholarship presented at the meeting on gay issues was “well intentioned” but that it was “a slap in the face” of California gay people to have the sessions in the hotel. Gay groups have been uniform in honoring the boycott, he said. The series of sessions on gay history was the first gay-related event to violate the boycott, he said.
The AHA’s Committee on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender History endorsed the rally, and endorsed the goals of the boycott, but did not formally endorse the boycott itself. Ian Lekus, chair of the committee and a lecturer in history and literature at Harvard University, said in an interview at the rally that he and many others intentionally stayed elsewhere and would not spend any money at the Hyatt. Lekus said that holding the gay scholarship sessions in the Hyatt -- which the AHA said was a gesture of challenge to Manchester -- was in fact “adding insult to injury” for those who support gay rights and gay scholarship.
That view was shared by some of those who presented. Among those at the rally were Nicholas L. Syrett of the University of Northern Colorado, who was part of a panel on “Male Couples and the Meaning of Same-Sex Love in Turn-of-the-Century Europe and America,” and Jennifer Manion of Connecticut College, who chaired the session. Both of them said that the AHA could have done a lot more to oppose Manchester, by holding more sessions off site, and by actively encouraging attendees to stay elsewhere, for example.
AHA leaders distributed information to attendees in which they noted the large sum of money -- $800,000 – that they said they would have lost by leaving the Hyatt. And while no one publicly criticized the protest, some at the meeting privately said that they didn’t view hotel choice as a political move, and wanted to focus on other issues. (For a skeptical take on the boycott tactic in this case, from a strong supporter of gay and lesbian rights, see this post in Tenured Radical.)
One person at the rally, Jay Driskell, an adjunct at the University of Arizona, argued that the AHA could in fact have avoided the controversy. Three years ago, Driskell organized a vote at the AHA business meeting encouraging the association to join the Informed Meetings Exchange, known as INMEX. That organization works with associations or groups planning meetings to find venues that have good labor relations and aren’t likely to face disruptions from strikes.
The AHA Council (its governing body) agreed to investigate joining INMEX, but eventually declined to do so. Arnita Jones, executive director of AHA, said that the association was willing to join INMEX only if it could be assured that the group was a 501(c)3 organization and independent of the union Unite Here. Jones said that “we never received assurance on either point.”
INMEX acknowledges working closely with Unite Here, but says it is independent. And while INMEX is legally recognized as a nonprofit group, it is not a 501(c)3, but is a 501(c)6, which it says is the correct classification for its mission.
John Stephens, chair of the INMEX board, said that many organizations like the AHA have joined INMEX, including the scholarly association of which he is executive director and which has overlap with some of the AHA membership, the American Studies Association.
Driskell, who is gathering petitions from AHA members to have it revisit the issue, said that he can’t understand why the association won’t join INMEX. He was handing out an information sheet with the headline: “How Do We Get Out of This Mess???”
4. Inside Higher Ed, January 13, 2010
1320 18th Street NW, 5th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20036
Love and Death in Indiana
By Scott McLemee
I have been reading with sadness and horror about the murder of Don Belton, an assistant professor of English at Indiana University, whose body was found in his apartment in Bloomington on December 28. He had been stabbed repeatedly in the back and sides. A novelist and essayist, Belton had taught creative writing at a number of institutions and was the editor of Speak My Name: Black Men on Masculinity and the American Dream, a landmark anthology published by Beacon in the mid-1990s. He was also gay, which is not an incidental detail.
Around the time police were getting their bearings on the case, the girlfriend of a young ex-Marine named Michael Griffin contacted police to tell them she thought he was involved in Belton’s death. Griffin was soon taken into custody. According to a detective's affidavit available online, he said that Belton had sexually assaulted him on Christmas. Two days later, he went to Belton’s apartment to have a “conversation” which turned into a “scuffle,” resulting in the professor’s death.
These words, which sound so mild, sit oddly in the narrative. The affidavit then goes on to say that Griffin stated “that he took a knife, called a ‘Peace Keeper’ that he had purchased prior to going to Iraq while in the Marine Corps, with him....” He also thought to bring a change of clothes. The bloody ones went into a white trash bag. Griffin “then went about and ran several errands,” the report continues, “before he eventually discarded the bloody clothing into a dumpster.... Mr. Griffin then returned home where he stated that he yold his girlfriend what he had done.”
I heard about the case from my friend Josh Lukin, a lecturer in the First Year Writing Program at Temple University -- where, as he used to say in the contributor's note for his publications, "he and novelist Don Belton occasionally bemuse the staff with their renditions of classic show tunes," back when they both taught there. Josh recalls his friend as a sweet-natured and brilliant colleague, but one whose many gifts did not include the ability to lift heavy objects.
Belton was 53 years old while the man charged in his death is 25. The idea that he could violate an ex-Marine (and not once but twice, according to his statement to the police during interrogation) would be funny if it were not so grotesque.
In his affidavit, the Bloomington detective who investigated the case reports finding “a journal kept by the decedent ... in which he writes in the week prior to Christmas 2009 that he is very happy that an individual by the name of Michael has come into his life.” Benton had joined Griffin and his girlfriend for Christmas. Indeed -- and this is in some ways the most troubling thing about the story -- the relationship seems to have been very friendly until it turned vicious.
It is easy to speculate about what may have happened. In fact we do not know. But the circumstances track with a familiar pattern -- one common enough to have a name: “the ‘gay panic’ defense.” This rests on the idea that the wave of disgust created in a heterosexual person at exposure to gay sexuality can create a state of temporary psychosis. The panic-stricken victim loses responsibility for his (for some reason, it always turns out to be “his”) actions.
This is an idea that should be retired to the Museum of Deranged Rationalization as soon as possible. But it seems far-fetched to imagine that Griffin and his counsel will get through trial without invoking it. (Despite his confession, Griffin has pleaded not guilty to murder.)
On the other hand, the “panic” defense touches on an issue that was of vital interest to Belton himself. He wrote the introduction to a book edited by the late Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Her work on queer theory includes a sustained inquiry into the complicated and damaging way certain institutions have forged intense bonds among men while also obliging them to police one another for the slightest trace of homosexuality. This contradictory demand makes for paranoia and volatility.
In Epistemology of the Closet (University of California Press, 1990), Sedgwick writes, “The historical emphasis on enforcement of homophobic rules in the armed services in, for instance, England and the United States supports this analysis. In these institutions, where both men’s manipulability and their potential for violence are at the highest possible premium, the prescription of the most intimate male bonding and the proscription of (the remarkably cognate) ‘homosexuality’ are both stronger than in civilian society – are, in fact, close to absolute.”
As it happens, Belton had reflected on this ambivalent, anxious, crazy-making dimension of social reality in an essay that appeared in the journal Transition in 1998. Reflecting on a book about gay Marines, Belton reflected on his own very complicated effort to sort out mixed messages about race, sexuality, and violence when he was growing up in the 1960s. The machismo of Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver had been both appealing and problematic – given that it rested on a belief that, as Franz Fanon had put it, “homosexuality is an attribute of the white race, Western civilization.” This was another version of the cultural logic that Sedgwick had identified: Solidarity among African-American men being forged by excluding gays as race traitors.
Belton’s vision was broader. He had been friends with James Baldwin and lectured on him at the Sorbonne; the influence of the novelist and essayist on his own work was not small. One of his friends has quoted a passage from Baldwin that seems to epitomize Belton’s work: “Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within." Although I did not know the man himself, this touches the heart of his writing, which suggests a desire to go beyond, or beneath, the prescribed roles and rules governing “identity.”
This is easier said than done, of course. It is also dangerous; love can be dangerous. Belton wrote in his journal (to quote from the detective’s statement again) “that he is very happy that an individual by the name of Michael has come into his life.” It is not necessary to use pseudopsychological terms like “gay panic” to describe the response this created. Keep in mind that the killer brought his own special knife and a change of clothes. Arguably another vocabulary applies, in which it is necessary to speak of evil
One of the remarkable things about the response to Belton's death is just how much of it there has been. Hundreds of people turned out for a vigil on New Year's Day (see video). There is a website called Justice for Don Belton. An open letter from the chair of his department has appeared on the departmental Web site. A memorial service will be held in Bloomington
And Josh Lukin tells me that he is proposing a session called “Remembering Don Belton” for the next MLA -- a panel "engaging his scholarship, art, journalism, and pedagogy." Possible topics might include "his writing and teaching on black masculinity, Baldwin, Brecht, Mapplethorpe, Morrison, Motown, jazz, cinema, abjection," to make the list no longer than that.
"The guy's range of interests was huge," Josh says, "and he kept surprising me with his knowledge of critical texts, both recent ('Bowlby, Just Looking? Great chapters on Dreiser.') and more traditional ('Why not talk about Morrison using R.W.B. Lewis, American Adam?')."
I have no idea how decisions about such proposals are decided. But this would be a good session to have on the schedule for next year. To move from sorrow to celebration is not easy; the effort should be encouraged.
5. UNF Spinnaker (University of North Florida), January 8, 2010
SG Senate denies T-shirt funding for LGBTQ Awareness Days
By Josh Fredrickson
The UNF Student Government Senate blocked a T-shirt funding request from pro-gay rights groups during the Jan. 4 Senate meeting, citing fiscal responsibility as the rationale.
Students representing PRIDE Club, the LGBT Resource Center and the UNF College Democrats attended the meeting and spoke in support of the proposal.
Sen. Tommy Walker introduced the legislation, which sought $505 from the SG Senate to partially fund a T-shirt campaign as part of an event coinciding with the upcoming LGBTQ Awareness Days, a series of events set to take place at the end of January.
The funds would have supplemented the purchase of T-shirts that read “Gay? Fine By Me,” which are to be handed out Jan. 26.
The funding request amounted to less than 1 percent of the Senate’s remaining special requests budget, which totaled just north of $54,000 at the start of the session.
During discussion of the legislation, Sen. Kyle Nelson, the Chairman of the Budget and Allocations Committee, was among several senators who articulated concerns regarding the fiscal responsibility of appropriating the funding.
Nelson presented a motion to dismiss or “zero-fund” the T-Shirt bill.
The motion to dismiss passed by a 20-8 vote, effectively ending debate and killing the bill.
The Senate then proceeded to discuss and approve a proposal made on behalf of the Exercise Science Student Association to cover traveling expenses for four members to attend an academic conference in South Carolina.
Former SG Senate President James Cima is the organization’s president, according to the group’s Facebook page.
The association’s funding request totaled more than $1,000.
At the conclusion of the session, Nelson said he was more concerned with the avenue through which PRIDE Club was attempting to gain funding than the dollar amount of the request.
“It could have been for five dollars, and I still would have denied it,” Nelson said. “It wasn’t the amount of money, it was the fact that they are an SG-funded organization through LGBT, and that’s where they should get their funds from, because this is an LGBT event, joined with PRIDE Club.”
Nelson said the funding of the association’s trip was, in contrast to the T-shirt bill, fiscally responsible because the group is not an SG-funded organization.
Following their legislative defeat, advocates of the T-shirt legislation voiced disappointment with the outcome.
“I’m just so livid right now, I’m trying to hold some very venomous words back,” said Chris Fulcher, government liaison of PRIDE Club.
Advocates of the legislation cited the Senate’s lack of diversity as a reason for the demise of the T-shirt bill.
“I feel that we need some people who are not in fraternities in Student Government,” Fulcher said. “I feel that we need people that do not have only one opinion, I think we need more diversity in [the Senate], and we need more respect for the process.”
Sen. Erica Richey seemed to refute this notion with her remarks during deliberations. Richey said she shared the fiscal concerns of many of her colleagues, but admonished them to vote on the matter at hand, disregarding any personal feelings about the group asking for funding.
“We still do need to be careful and make sure that … we are looking strictly at how this is serving the students; what this is going to do and not the club or anything like that,” Richey said
While discouraged with the Senate’s refusal to grant their funding request, proponents of the T-shirt legislation promised to channel their frustration into action.
“After events like this, several of us will be running for Senate,” said T-shirt bill supporter Logan Buzzell.
Fulcher agreed that the Senate needs greater student participation.
“People need to get over their apathy and get involved in the process,” Fulcher said.
6. South Bend Tribune, January 16, 2010
225 W. Colfax Ave., South Bend, IN 46626
Notre Dame's Observer newspaper staff sorry for cartoon
By Joseph Dits
SOUTH BEND — A comic strip in the student newspaper at the University of Notre Dame has started the new semester with a harsh lesson.
The three-panel strip appeared Wednesday, the first issue of The Observer after Christmas break.
A talking saw asks, "What is the easiest way to turn a fruit into a vegetable?"
"No idea," a man responds.
"A baseball bat," says the saw.
It led to an outcry — locally and from at least one national organization — at how the strip plays on violence against gay people.
The Observer's editor in chief, student Jenn Metz, professes her and her staff's outrage.
"I was personally outraged and extremely offended that something of that nature had been printed in our paper — language that has no place at Notre Dame, language that is hurtful to members of our community," Metz says. "Our written apology is the first step in moving forward."
Metz is referring to The Observer's own editorial in Friday's edition that apologizes for the cartoon. Also, the three Notre Dame seniors who develop the cartoon, known as "The Mobile Party," write their apology.
Metz says she and her staff are investigating what went wrong. She says she wasn't there when Wednesday's edition was put together and didn't see the comic until it appeared in print.
The university's president, the Rev. John Jenkins, said this about the strip in a written statement Friday: "The University denounces the implication that violence or expressions of hate toward any person or group of people is acceptable or a matter that should be taken lightly."
Like many college papers, The Observer is independent. The daily paper is produced on campus, but students are completely in charge of content. They send the paper to the printer and the Internet without a university official peering over their shoulders, Metz says. In its statement Friday, the university says it continues to respect the paper's independence.
Metz says she and her staff started to respond to the cartoon as soon as it appeared in print — without nudging from the university and before dozens of angry readers wrote or stopped by the paper's office.
"There's a larger problem than this specific comic," says Daniel J. Myers, a sociology professor and associate dean at Notre Dame. He wrote a commentary in Friday's edition of The Observer titled "How we know our university has failed," which focuses on the issues surrounding the cartoon.
Myers says there's a culture that still thinks these sorts of things are funny. He'd like to see more people voice their outrage so that there might be more conversation on the issue.
"I think all of us have a responsibility to respond to this sort of thing," he says.
Alex Giorgio, a Granger man who is gay, agrees: "If we keep quiet, nothing will change."
Tricia Wainscott hopes this turns into a learning experience. She suggests "some kind of forum to express actions of hate that have happened to them."
She is director of the GLBT Resource Center of Michiana, a South Bend nonprofit that offers support and information to people with gender issues. GLBT stands for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.
Wainscott lives close to the Notre Dame campus and loves the place. But now, she says, the cartoon's reference to violence raises a question about whether people can feel safe stepping foot there.
"Something like this gives me a strong reason for having protections — so that things like this can't be seen as a joke," she says.
She says she gets calls from people who believe that being gay caused them to lose jobs and apartments, and from others who have suffered domestic violence from a gay partner.
Giorgio, who runs the center's support group for youths who are GLBT or questioning it, adds, "We have to look to lawmakers to be more inclined to add GLBT to workplace discrimination clauses and allow members of the community to have equal rights."
A blog, apparently run by the comic's creators, suggested that the strip's original punch line wasn't the phrase, "A baseball bat," but "AIDS." The punch line was changed. Metz says she's still seeking answers to whether that was true.
In their apology, the comic's creators write that they "use the tool characters to emphasize a mindset that we simply find ridiculous." They write that their strip relies on "shock value" and that "now ... we have gone too far."
A statement from The Observer staff says: "We ... are working to contact groups in our community to begin to move forward and help to eliminate language of hate toward others on campus. We will be working over the next several days to publish revised policies, editing processes and staff changes."
Along with supporting groups that promote peace, love and nonviolence, Metz points out that The Observer has editorialized in the past in support of adding sexual orientation to the university's nondiscrimination clause.
Asked if the timing was poignant — so close to Monday's holiday for civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. — Metz said: "There is still a problem of hateful speech in our society. It would be just as hateful if it appeared on any other Wednesday."
In the university's statement Friday, it refers to the "Spirit of Inclusion" that it adopted in 1997, saying that it values gay and lesbian members of its community and condemns "harassment of any kind." It states the university should "consciously create an environment of mutual respect, hospitality and warmth in which none are strangers and all may flourish."
7. AZCentral.com/The Arizona Republic, January 16, 2010
200 East Van Buren St., Phoenix, AZ 85004
Paradise Valley Community College to host gay, lesbian film festival
By Connie Cone Sexton
The inaugural Desperado Gay and Lesbian Film Festival is set for Jan. 29-30 at Paradise Valley Community College. The festival was organized by members of the Pride student group. Alan East, festival chair, said the Pride group hopes the festival will attract people around the Valley.
More than 75 films were sent to East to be considered for the festival. "We watched them all," East said of the selection committee. They wound up choosing four feature films and seven short films. "We wanted to focus on films that depicted all aspects of our culture and community," East said. "We wanted to have the coming-out issue, the hate-crime issue, the marriage and equality issue," he said.
Ticket sales will go into a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender scholarship for students. Those attending will be able to meet film makers, actors and supporters of the gay community.
Location: Center for the Performing Arts at PVCC, 18401 N. 32nd St. Parking for the theater is on the east side of campus. Tickets: All-access pass for the two days: $40. Single-showing tickets: $10 ($8 for seniors and students).
Box office: 602-787-7738. Noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and one hour prior to curtain. www.paradisevalley.edu/cpa. Film schedule: desperadofilmfestival.com.
Jan. 29: 5-6:30 p.m. reception; 7 p.m. feature film "Patrik Age 1.5."
Jan. 30: Noon: short films; 2:30 p.m. feature "Amancio, Two Faces On a Tombstone;"5 p.m. feature "Hannah Free";and 8 p.m. feature "Big Gay Musical."
8. Yale Daily News, January 11, 2010
202 York Street, New Haven, CT 06511
Rights group criticizes Yale
By Jordi Gasso
This year’s Game may be over, but the controversy over the Freshman Class Council’s proposed T-shirt design continues.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organization that focuses on civil liberties in American colleges and universities, sent a letter last month to University President Richard Levin criticizing the administration for asking the FCC to reconsider its decision to sell a T-shirt deemed offensive for its use of the word “sissy” by members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Co-operative. When members of the co-op raised their concerns in the week preceding the game, Yale College Dean Mary Miller asked the FCC to change the design, which displayed an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote that labeled all Harvard men as “sissies” and added the words, “We agree.”
Adam Kissel, the director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, wrote the letter, which was also sent to Miller, Dean of Freshman Affairs Raymond Ou, the FCC and the News.
“With the T-shirts, you see the phenomenon where the most easily offended people on campus control the discourse,” Kissel said in an interview, “and the higher officials get to decide what is right to express.”
In his letter, Kissel mentioned Yale’s own Woodward Report, a 1975 document outlining the University’s official policy on freedom of expression, in order to assert that Yale is not living up to its own principles.
Miller defended the administration’s actions, saying the fact that the Yale College Dean’s Office sponsors the FCC makes a difference.
“Yale College did not endorse this T-shirt by facilitating its printing by an official organization within the college,” Miller said. “Nevertheless, the T-shirt certainly could have been made by another group and disseminated freely for the football game.”
But Kissel said even if the Dean’s Office “pulls the purse strings,” it should not take control over what the student government says.
“If they get to decide what’s acceptable and what the democratically elected FCC representatives are allowed to say, that’s the opposite of freedom of expression,” he said. “It flies directly in the face of the Woodward Report.”
Rachel Schiff ’10, who was co-coordinator of the LGBT Co-op at the time of the incident, said that issues of freedom of expression change when an incident occurs in a college campus.
“If we’re going to get legal, freedom of speech has a variety of constrictions in academic settings,” Schiff said. “I actually applaud the administration, but more specifically, the FCC for looking out for the LGBT community.”
The use of the word “sissies” was used out of context on the T-shirts, Schiff said, and was intended to be an insult drawn from an era where its usage was specifically aimed at gay people.
FCC President Brandon Levin ’13 said that when selecting the T-shirt design, the FCC was unaware that “sissies” could be construed as homophobic. When asked to change the design, the FCC quickly agreed.
“It’s the prerogative of FIRE to continue investigating, but from the standpoint of the FCC, the issue is closed, over and done with,” Levin said.
Kissel’s letter asks University President Levin to respond by this Tuesday and reassure FIRE that Yale “will no longer seek to censor ‘the unmentionable.’” Kissel said he would like to know that when a similar situation comes in the future, a dean will not ask students to censor themselves.
Levin declined to comment about the controversy Sunday because he said he did not have all the information.
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